Race Depriest is ready to meet the girl of his dreams. The "meeting" part, at least, should be no problem because Race is literally a professional — a social-dynamics coach for the Manhattan-based dating-instruction company The Art of Charm and co-author of the e-book Window Shopping for Women: How To Meet Women From Myspace, Facebook, and More.
"I'm really not a pick-up artist," he tells me, reminding me of college frat boys who would claim, "I'm not, like, your typical frat boy." But I can't help thinking that Race is sincere. It helps that he has a baby face, bright green eyes and hair that screams Abercrombie and Fitch. Last week, our mutual acquaintance, another not-a-pick-up-artist pick-up artist, told me that Race, despite his prowess with women, is ready to settle down. Of course, I was intrigued. Why would a professional seducer want the same banal thing that everyone eventually wants, when he could just as easily avert what pick-up artists call "one-itis"?
I was determined to find out.
I meet Race for beers at an East Village laundromat-turned-bar called Drop-Off Service. He sits to my right in a semicircle booth. We're with some of his friends and two mysterious, beautiful women who gaze at Race like he's a lava lamp and they've taken too many bong hits.
If you spend time with Race and his crew (most of whom are affiliated with The Art of Charm), you get the sense they know something you don't, as if you're hanging out with magicians and the second you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, they will draw their heads together and say, "She really believed I plucked that quarter from her ear!" But you also suspect that the second you leave, they'll forget you exist, that your absence will make no impression at all.
Race's agenda didn't always include plans to settle down.
Two mysterious, beautiful women gaze at Race like he's a lava lamp and they've taken too many bong hits.
Before moving to New York, he lived in New Mexico, New Zealand, Las Vegas, Madrid, Alabama, and California. He worked as a numerologist's personal assistant, as a youth leader in Oahu, and as a birthday-party Spiderman in Albuquerque. He has traveled to eleven countries and slept with beautiful women all over the world. Only now, at twenty-seven, is he hoping to find a woman "to build memories with."
He tells me, "This is a fantasy, but how great would it be if a girl just decided she wanted me and would do whatever it took to get me? Not because she's needy, but because she sees something in me that she has to have."
I consider this, remembering a guy who pursued me for months before I gave him my number, at which point, he held the slip of paper aloft like a trophy and said, "I worked hard for this!" It was a touching, primal sight, like wild animals having sex. But the memory, and my concurrent understanding of male desire, clash with Race's fantasy.
"Don't you want a challenge?"
Race takes a sip of his beer. "Of course," he says. "But she would know what to do. She would not only meet my resistance, but throw resistance right back. All this stuff. . . it's like fencing. But it's not a fight. That's negative."
It's clear within three seconds of meeting Race, who gives the right kind of hugs (tight, two arms, no patting) that he rejects all things negative. The way he sees it, there's a lot to be excited about, all the time, and obstacles are a matter of perspective. Well, of course they are — if you're a gorgeous, fit, socially skilled straight man who can make yourself attractive to every woman on the planet.
Like many people, I became intrigued by the "seduction community" after reading The Game, Neil Strauss' 2005 account of spending two years among the world's greatest pick-up artists. Since reading The Game, I can't say I haven't scoured the online-seduction forums a few times. I can't say I didn't once succumb to a man who used NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) on me. I can't say I don't have an enormous celebrity crush on Neil Strauss, who ends The Game like a fairytale: fed up with abundant, meaningless sex, he settles down with a gorgeous rock star, and (at least in the book) decides he wants no one but her.
Within the seduction community, a lot of men seem to be following Strauss' lead: A long-term girlfriend (hot, of course) is, for many, the ultimate prize. Curiously, though, among the Art of Charm coaches, only a couple have serious girlfriends, and Race has been unattached for several years.
"So if you find her," I say, "then what? Monogamy?"
"Well," Race says. "I'm a man. I have an innate desire for variety. But I would never cheat. She would have to be comfortable with bringing other women into the relationship for sex. It would be something we would do together."
I try to imagine one of my ex-boyfriends proposing group sex to me. So romantic! But I can also imagine agreeing to such an arrangement — if I were sickly obsessed with my boyfriend. (And believe me, I've been there. It makes me say magnanimous things like, "Don't mind me! Enjoy your cocaine!") I imagine a girl loving Race feverishly, doing anything to ensure that he'd never leave her, even pretending to be cool with orgies. I start to feel sad for Race's fantasy girl, who might not even exist.
Jordan, co-founder of The Art of Charm, a guy who wears red suspenders and styles his hair like a Rhodesian Ridgeback, chimes in: "If you know you can get anyone, you can have standards. You don't have to settle for someone just because she likes you. Imagine how much happier people would be if they could marry whomever they wanted. You wouldn't want anyone but the person you had. You picked her. She was your first choice."
Well, fine — in theory. But what about a few years into the relationship, when the mystery's gone, when the sex has become routine? Won't someone else become first choice?
Of course Race stays optimistic: "There are those families when you're growing up," he says, "and everyone wants to be at their house because the parents love each other so much. You can just feel the love. They love each other more every day. That's so rare, but it exists. I know it's out there. So I'd rather be alone for the rest of my life than settle for less."
When Race turns his attention back to the beautiful girl to his right, his friend Patrick picks up the thread. Patrick met the Art of Charm guys when he took one of their seminars, but he's since become a part of their inner circle. He's quiet and tall and jarringly beautiful, with a perfectly symmetrical face and enormous hands (he holds them up to show me, palms out, then turns them to show me the backs). He wears a silver ring that looks like a wedding band, but it's resting safely around his index finger.
"Some men never come to grips with life with one woman," he says. "But then some find one woman they give it all up for. I think that the more you date, the more complex your standards become, so that when you meet someone who fits, it's not even a question."
I like this idea, but since it's coming from a single man, I take it with a grain of salt. "Won't there always be someone else who might fit better?"
By way of response, Patrick uses jargon I've seen in the seduction forums: "the scarcity mentality" and "the abundance mentality." If a guy, even one who masters the art of seduction, never loses his scarcity mentality — think of Great Depression survivors who re-use plastic sandwich bags — he'll always have a wandering eye.
If a guy never loses his scarcity mentality — think of Depression survivors who re-use plastic sandwich bags — he'll always have a wandering eye.
By contrast, a guy who internalizes the "abundance" of women available to him will be more likely to focus on a relationship without frantically searching for more conquests.
"The difference between a guy who is good with women," Patrick tells me, "and a guy who is good with women and with himself, is that even though the confident guy knows there will always be 'better' women out there, that doesn't affect the present. What's important is what's happening at this point in time and the experiences you have with this person now."
After a few minutes, I see Race in my peripheral vision, making out with the beautiful girl. When she gets up to go to the bathroom, he responds to some text messages.
"How many girls are you usually texting with?" I ask him.
"I don't know," he says. "Five?" He finishes sending a text message, looks up from his phone, and smiles at me.
The Art of Charm guys have great smiles. They also have straight posture and make direct, consistent eye contact; when I talk with them, I feel like they're holding me up over their heads, crowd-surfer style, and if I look away from them, it feels a little like falling.
Before I met up with Race, I asked my girl friends for their thoughts on professional seducers. A lot of them had the same response: "I don't get it. Why would anyone want to date a pick-up artist?"
One of my recently engaged friends said, "What kind of future do you have with a guy who can get any girl? You don't want the guy who can get any girl."
Although this is a practical assessment, it might not be honest. The art of seduction, when mastered, works because pick-up artists offer not what we claim to want, but what we actually want, even if we don't know we want it. But what's that exactly? According to Race, it's the perfect blend of Nice Guy and Asshole Guy — the confident man who is attentive without being needy. It might sound simple, but acquiring charm takes a lot of time and effort; charm can be learned, but not faked, and there really is no shortcut. If you're not confident, Race says, women are going to smell it.
"Guys come to our seminars," Jordan adds, "and they say, 'Teach us how to seduce women.' They want to learn to pick up women in a weekend. What they don't understand is that we've all spent years working on ourselves. So we do what we call 'hiding the broccoli.' A little kid won't eat broccoli. But if you smother it in cheese, he'll eat it. We tell these guys, 'Yeah, we'll teach you to pick up women.' But what we're really teaching is self-improvement."
And this is what sets The Art of Charm apart within the seduction industry. At their seminars, the coaches focus not on seduction, but on challenging students' negative self-perceptions, teaching them that life is not so scary, that girls are not so scary, that everything will be much easier if they can get over their own self-imposed limitations.
"Other companies," Jordan tells me, "teach guys how to run routines, to go up to girls and make up lies about themselves to start a conversation, and then get the girls into bed. That's putting a band-aid on a bullet hole. If you just learn seduction, you can't ever have a real relationship. You've still got all these other problems. At our seminars, we make the guys do the things that scare them most. I'll take a guy to a bar and make him talk to the cutest girl in the room or the scariest-looking dude. I don't let him plan out what he's going to say. I force him into these scary situations. And then I give him feedback. If a guy's super-shy, I'll make him go out to a bar wearing a kangaroo suit. Then he's the center of attention, which is what he's most afraid of."
"Everyone has all this stuff they want to do," Race says. "A guy will tell me, 'I want to go to Thailand,' and I'll ask him, 'When? How much is a plane ticket?' and he'll have no idea. So I'll tell him, 'Then you don't really want to go to Thailand.'
"Do you know why you play with your hair?"
If he really wants to go, he needs to work out the logistics. If you really want something, nothing should stand in your way."
The beautiful girl has returned from the bathroom and is watching Race, looking starry-eyed and utterly seduced. I start getting ready to leave.
"Do you know why you play with your hair?" Race asks me as I'm sliding out of the booth.
I lower my hands to my sides. "It's a grooming thing," I say vaguely.
"No," he says, "you do it because it makes you more comfortable."
"I'm not uncomfortable," I say, and Race laughs out loud.
Like many people, I have always fancied myself perceptive, have always bragged, "I'm such a good listener! Nothing gets by me!" But now I'm starting to think that plenty gets by me. The more I watch Race watch me, the more sure I am that he can read me fluently, and the more I want him to tell me about myself. When he mentions casually, matter-of-factly, that I'm attracted to Jordan, I panic, wondering if I accidentally admitted that aloud. (I didn't.) When he points out that my eye contact improves when I feel more at ease, and that I frequently look downward to access my emotions, it's like he's showing me X-rays of my thoughts.
But simultaneously, I'm starting to think there's a down side to cracking the mystery of social dynamics, to reading body language as easily as other people read the word "EXIT," glowing red in the dark of a public building. You watch someone talk and know when she's lying; you watch someone move and know what she's thinking. If you have a Rosetta Stone for every interaction, you can never again think, This is magical, or, I'm falling so hard, or, Only you can make me feel this way. And without those sensations, without the willingness to relinquish control, without the belief (no matter how juvenile) that chemistry is partly magic, how can you ever fall in love? How can you lose yourself in a moment?
Race demurs: "I can lose myself. It's not like I can't enjoy the moment just because I understand it."
But how? "Think about it like this," Race says. "A flower is beautiful. Right? If you're a botanist, you know everything about the flower. But does that mean you lose the flower? Do you miss the flower as it was before you knew everything about it? No. You enjoy it more. You have a deeper appreciation."
Before I leave, I ask Race one more question, my hands shoved into my pockets so they don't make their way to my hair. "Why haven't you found her yet?"
For the first time since I've met him, Race hesitates for a second. "Maybe I'm not ready," he laughs. "But every day I'm on the path," he says. "I'm getting closer. It's about the journey, not the destination. You have to be able to enjoy the journey." He says it so earnestly, it doesn't even sound corny. And somehow I don't find myself laughing. n°
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Diana Spechler is the author of the novel Who By Fire. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Esquire, Glimmer Train Stories, and elsewhere. She lives in New York City, where she is at work on her second novel. Learn more at www.dianaspechler.com|